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sound, noise, or motion were concerned, the imi. tation by words was abundantly obvious. Nothing was more natural, than to imitate, by the sound of the voice, the quality of the sound or noise which any external object made, and to form its name accordingly. Thus, in all languages, we find a multitude of words that are evidently cons ructed upon this principle. A certain bird is termed the cuckoo, from the sound which it emits. When one sort of wind is said to whistle, and another to roar; when a serpent is said to hiss ; a fly to buzz, and falling timber to crash ; when a stream is said to flow, and hail to rattle; the analogy between the word and the thing signified is plainly discernible.
This principle, however, of a natural relation between words and objects, can only be applied to language in its most simple and primitive state. Though, in every tongue, some remains of it can be traced, it were utterly in vain to search for it throughout the whole construction of any modern language. As the multitude of terms increase in every nation, and the immense field of action is filled up, words, by a thousand fanciful and irregular methods of derivation and composition, come to deviate widely from the primitive character of their roots, and to lose all analogy or resemblance in sound to the things signified. In this state we now find language. Words, as we now employ them, taken in the general, may be considered as symbols, not as imitations; as arbi. trary, or instituted, not natural signs of ideas. But there can be no doubt, I think, that language, the nearer we remount to its rise among men, will be found to partake more of a natural expression. As it could be originally formed on nothing but imitation, it would in its primitive state be more picturesque; much more barren indeed, and nar. row in the circle of its terms than now; but, as far as it went, more expressive hy sound of the thing signified.
This artificial method of communicating thought, we now behold carried to the highest perfection. Language is become a vehicle by which the most delicate and refined emotions of the mind can be transmitted, or, if we may so speak, transfused into another. Not only are names given to all objects around us, by which means an easy and speedy intercourse is carried on for providing the necessaries of life, but all the relations and differences among these objects are minutely marked, the invisible sentiments of the mind are described, the most abstract notions and conceptions are rendered intelligible, and all the ideas which science can discover, or imagination cr te, are known by their proper names. Nay, language has been carried so far, as to be made an instru. ment of the most refined luxury. Not resting in mere perspicuity, we require ornament also; not satisfied with having the conceptions of others made known to us, we make a further demand, to have them so decked and adorned as to entertain our fancy: and this demand, it is found very possible to gratify. In this state we now find language. In this state it has been found among many nations for some thousand years. The object is become familiar; and, like the expanse of the firmament, and other great objects, which we are accustomed to behold, we behold it without wonder.
OF THE INVENTION OF WRITING. To whom we are indebted for this sublime and refined discovery, does not appear. Concealed by the darkness of remote antiquity, the great inventor is deprived of those honours which would still be paid to his memory, by all the lovers of knowledge and learning. It appears from the books which Moses has written, that among the Jews, and probably among the Egyptians, letters had been invented prior to his age. The universal tradition among the ancients is, that they were first imported into Greece by Cadmus the Phænician, who, according to the common system of chronology, was contemporary with Joshua ; according to sir Isaac Newton's system, contemporary with king David. As the Phænicians are not known to have been the inventors of any art or science, though by means of their extensive commerce they propagated the discoveries made by other nations, the most probable and natural account of alphabetical characters is, that they took rise in Egypt, the first civilized kingdom of which we have any authentic accounts, and the great source of arts and policy among the ancients. In that country, the favourite study of hieroglyphical characters had directed much attention to the art of writing. Their hieroglyphics are known to have been intermixed with abbre
viated symbols, and arbitrary marks; whence, at last, they caught the idea of contriving marks, not for things merely, but for sounds. Accordingly, Plato (in Phædo) expressly attributes the invention of letters to Theuth, the Egyptian, who is supposed to have been the Hermes, or Mercury, of the Greeks. Cadmus himself, though he passed from Phænicia to Greece, yet is affirmed by several of the ancients to have been originally of Thebes in Egypt. Most probably, Moses carried with him the Egyptian letters into the land of Canaan; and there being adopted by the Phonicians, who inhabited part of that country, they were transmitted into Greece.
The letters were originally written from the right hand towards the left; that is, in a contrary order to what we now practise. This manner of writing obtained among the Assyrians, Phæni. cians, Arabians, and Hebrews; and, from some very old inscriptions, appears to have obtained also among the Greeks. Afterwards, the Greeks adopted a new method, writing their lines alte nately from the right to the left, and from the left to the right, which was called boustrophedon; or writing after the manner in which oxen plough the ground. Of this several specimens still remain; particularly, the inscription on the famous Sigean monument; and down to the days of Solon, the legislator of Athens, this continued to be the common method of writing. At length, the motion from the left hand to the right being found more natural and commodious, the practice of writing in this direction prevailed throughout all the countries of Europe.
Writing was long a kind of engraving. Pillars, and tables of stone, were first employed for this purpose, and afterwards plates of the softer metals, such as lead. In proportion as writing became more common, lighter and more portable substances were employed. The leaves, and the bark of certain trees, were used in some countries; and in others tablets of wood, covered with a thin coat of soft wax, on which the impression was made with a stylus of iron. In later times, the hides of animals, properly prepared and polished into parchment, were the most common materials. Our present mode of writing on paper, is an invention of no greater antiquity than the fourteenth century.
THE ADVANTAGES OF SPEECH AND WRITING
The advantages of writing above speech are, that writing is both a more extensive and a more permanent method of communication. More extensive, as it is not confined within the narrow circle of those who hear our words; but, by means of written characters, we can send our thoughts abroad, and propagate them through the world; we can lift our voice, so as to speak to the most distant regions of the Earth. More permanent also, as it prolongs this voice to the most distant ages; it gives us the means of recording our sentiments to futurity, and of perpetuating the. instructive memory of past transactions. It likewise affords this advantage to-such as read, above